Iditarod dogs are the healthiest of the healthy dogs on the planet. The health care they receive before and during the race is second to none. Stuart Nelson, DVM is the Chief Veterinarian for Iditarod. During pre-race physicals and out on the trail he is assisted by forty-five other Veterinarians specially trained in the science of sled dog medicine. They are all members of the ISDVMA (International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association). In addition to the large well trained veterinarian team, there are countless veterinarian technicians that also assist with dog care.
Upon arrival in a checkpoint, a vet greets the musher with the question, “Do you have any concerns about your dogs?” This makes sense as the musher has just covered the distance from the last checkpoint with the team and would notice any changes – maybe a little change in gait or a lose tug line or not eating enthusiastically. Mushers are required to carry a VET notebook that’s a method of communicating cares between the vets stationed along the trail. After a basic checkup, the Vet writes comments in the notebook for the musher to carry on down the trail.
Trail physicals, given at each checkpoint, follow the acronym HAW&L. “H” stands for heart and hydration. “A” represents attitude and appetite. “W” is for weight. “L” covers legs and lungs. At each checkpoint along the trail, the vets gather a great deal of information about each of the canine athletes from the mushers and from their own observations and examination techniques – listening through a stethoscope, gentle joint manipulation and simple tests for hydration.
Modern day mushers are proud of their canine athletes and know that team performance is directly related to the care these athletes receive. They have formed an organization known as Mush with P.R.I.D.E. The goal of the organization is to Provide Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment. The well-established canine health care procedures used on the Iditarod Trail and these basic health care guidelines published in the Mush with P.R.I.D.E. Handbook can point every dog keeper down the right trail when caring for canine friends.
- On a daily basis – Interact with your dog daily, pet it and pay attention to attitude, appetite and hydration. Know your dog.
- On a monthly basis – Groom your dog and trim its nails. Be diligent about giving medications for heartworm and parasite control. Remember an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keep records.
- On a 3 to 6 month basis – Treat for intestinal parasites. Deworming depends on where you live and what types of parasites are common to the area. A local veterinarian is your best resource. Keep records.
- On a yearly basis – Take your dog to the vet for a yearly physical exam and vaccinations. Keep records.
Well there you have it some basic health care guidelines from the vets on the trail and the mushers themselves. Take care of your dog and you can bet he or she will pay you back a hundred fold.
Born to Run,